Muscovy ducks are known for their appetite for insects, including flies. By allowing Muscovy ducks to roam free-range in areas where flies are present, they can consume large quantities of flies, larvae and other insects. This reduces the population of these pests on the farm.
Besides being a nuisance, flies and other insect pests can be a serious problem on a farm. It’s estimated that stable flies alone cost the livestock industry $2.2 billion per year. That isn’t counting houseflies, face flies and horn flies, which all spread diseases and reduce feed efficiency and milk production. Methods of control include predator wasps, insecticides and mechanical control, all of which can be expensive and not always effective.
On the contrary, keeping Muscovy ducks is a simple, cheap and natural solution that could work for small- and large-scale farms.
Researchers in Canada have tested Muscovy ducks as an alternative way of pest control in swine and dairy facilities. In field trials, Muscovy ducks were effective in controlling more than 90 percent of the adult and larvae fly population in closed calf and sow pens. The ducks didn’t require any supplemental feed and had access to flies, water and spilled (wasted) feed. At the conclusion of the studies, the ducks were easily sold for twice the original cost of the ducklings.
In addition to the studies, there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence of people using Muscovy ducks on their farms. The ducks follow the livestock around and even snatch pests off their hides while the livestock are resting. Muscovies are also said to control mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and other insect pests as well.
Many people keep these ducks for other reasons as well. Muscovy ducks have a tame and gentle disposition. When they get familiar with you, they’ll follow you and even waggle their tails like dogs when they are happy to see someone. This makes them popular as pets. They also have good-tasting meat, which some say resembles lean pork, and are good producers of eggs.
Moreover, for lovers of quiet, these ducks don’t quack.
The Muscovy duck breed is native to Mexico as well as South and Central America. It seems to have no connection to Moscow (once called Moscovia or even Muscovy), and why it bears its name is a secret unknown.
It’s a large duck, with males weighing up to 15 pounds and females half the size. Muscovies aren’t derived from the wild mallard stock such as other ducks and are as much related to the goose as to the duck. They come in many colors, the most popular being white and black. Probably the most distinguished feature of the Muscovy duck breed is its mask and red caruncles on the face. These are bigger and more prominent on the males. They are also good fliers and have strong sharp claws, which they use to roost in trees.
Raising Muscovies is easy, with minimal costs. Muscovy ducks are a healthy and robust breed, though they can be susceptible to cold. Therefore, it’s best to start with ducklings in spring or summer. Provide them with a nonmedicated chick or duckling starter along with eggs, greens, boiled peas and grit.
You’ll also need to provide them with some niacin supplements. Boiled peas are a good source of niacin, as well as brewer’s yeast. After they are 2 weeks of age, phase out the baby feed and switch to a grower/starter feed containing about 15 percent protein or start mixing in 20 percent rolled oats to lower the overall protein level.
Muscovy ducks are even less water repellent than other breeds, so it’s very important to keep all water pans very shallow to avoid drowning. Even mother-raised ducklings should be best kept from swimming until they are at least 2 weeks of age.
After they are 2 to 4 weeks old, Muscovy ducklings can be let out to forage on insects and grass supplemented by unmedicated layer feed. However, don’t to let them swim until they are fully feathered on the belly.
Although Muscovy ducks aren’t as messy as other ducks, they still need water. They should be able to dunk their heads to lubricate their membranes and require water while eating to soften their food.
A kiddie pool will work well. A pond is ideal. In winter, a warm bucket of water is greatly appreciated.
Despite being a half-wild breed (they have even become a pest in some parts of Texas and Florida), Muscovy ducks will need shelter at night to protect them from cold and predators. Any secure, well-ventilated and draft-free enclosure is suitable. Adding a deep layer of litter will help keep them warm, and providing roosting places will be greatly appreciated.
Eggs & Meat
Muscovy ducks typically start laying eggs after about six months. As seasonal layers, they take a break during winter and resume laying in February. Unlike other breeds, they don’t lay eggs continuously.
After laying 15 to 20 eggs, the Muscovy duck will become broody and take a break, even if you remove the eggs. They lay about 60 to 120 eggs per year, which doesn’t make them the best breed for egg laying. Nevertheless, their eggs are large, nutritious, tasty, and a great byproduct of efficient fly control for the homestead.
Muscovy ducks are excellent mothers and will raise ducklings by themselves. They have a longer incubation period of 33 to 35 days and diligently sit on the eggs all the time, occasionally taking breaks to come out and eat. They can even be used to hatch eggs of other poultry and waterfowl. Muscovies can raise two to three sets of ducklings a year, making them a great duck breed for self-sufficient meat production.
Muscovy ducks have dark red and very lean meat that is highly prized for its taste, similar to lean ham or veal. They reach butchering size in three to four months and are a popular heritage meat duck breed.
Muscovy ducks are a great addition to any homestead. So, if flies are a nuisance on your farm, consider adding some of these wonderful ducks as a low-cost fly trap that also provides perfect egg laying and meat production.
At a Glance
Muscovies love foraging on pasture, where they convert slugs, snails, mosquitoes, weeds, tender grass, berries and other edibles into tasty, lean meat and eggs. Muscovy females only lay around 50 to 100 eggs a year, but they make devoted broody birds that will gladly set their own eggs, as well as those belonging to other waterfowl, and vigorously defend their young from perceived enemies. These birds can make friendly, fascinating pets, too.
While all other farmyard ducks developed from the wild Mallard, the domestic Muscovy arose from a perching, hole-nesting tropical duck species, the wild Muscovy.
Domesticated by the indigenous peoples of South America, this large breed served as an efficient, pest-eating source of meat and fresh eggs for centuries, and still does today. Some sources speculate the breed’s Russian name came from a shipping company (called the Muscovite Company) that may have ferried these ducks from the New World to Britain during the 1500s.
Muscovies are monsters of the duck world, with drakes tipping the scales at around 15 pounds and females weighing about 8 pounds. Some unkind people call these ducks ugly. More enlightened Muscovy enthusiasts describe their appearance as unusual: vivid red skin adorned with fleshy “caruncles” surrounds the drake’s eyes and bill, while the female’s face has a less warty appearance.
Muscovies flaunt a number of different color varieties, including White, Chocolate, Blue and Black.
Thanks to their tropical roots, Muscovies tolerate hot weather well (always provide them with water), but they do need shelter during freezing weather. Unlike domestic ducks derived from Mallards, these quackless fowl utter quiet squeaks and hisses, making them a good breed choice if noise is a concern. Use caution when handling these hefty ducks: Muscovies possess powerful wings, clawed feet and strong, hooked bills, as well as the feisty disposition to wield them.
This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.